The Swim Story

The Ironman Triathlon begins with a 2.4 mile swim.

Growing up less than a half mile from the eastern shore of White Bear Lake, I spent a lot of time in the water as a child. First at tiny Willernie beach, nestled at the corner of Ash & Wildwood Beach Road, and later, as I grew old enough to walk or bike, at Mahtomedi Beach, which was a little over a mile away. That’s where I took swimming lessons during the summer, and where I successfully  graduated every level, all the way up to Junior Lifeguard. I would’ve considered myself a good swimmer, but that’s because I was an arrogant child. Let’s be real.  All I ever really did at the lake was play. Swimming for any length of time or distance never really happened.

Until about 9 years ago. I was on a staff retreat with Eagle Brook’s worship team at Camp Kingswood in Minnetrista. Upon our arrival at this quaint camp on Little Long Lake, a few of us quickly tossed on our swimsuits and headed down to the water. It wasn’t long before I came up with an awesome idea… “Let’s swim across the lake!” It didn’t look that far across (in fact I measured it recently – only .16 mile). It would be easy, after all, I’m a good swimmer... and fun! Only one of my coworkers was brave enough to take me up on it (or maybe he just didn’t want me to die). We swam for about two minutes before I was totally wiped out. I basically back floated the rest of the way, then sat on the beach on the other side for about 10 minutes catching my breathe, and trying to figure out how I was gonna make it back. Apparently swimming distance is a lot harder than it looks.


Little Long Lake, Minnestrista, MN. The lake I (tried to) swim across in 2008. Photo cred. Suzie Katusky.

The next time I decided to give swimming a try was about 4 years ago. I had been sidelined from running due to a hip injury, so instead of bearing the shame of a water aerobics class, I decided to swim some laps. I could barely make it the 25 yards to the other end. I had to stop to catch my breath and bring my heart rate back down. That didn’t go so well. I think I did 2 whole laps that day, and promptly quit for good. Swimming sucks!  I started water aerobics a few days later.

That’s it. That sums up my life in swimming.

So why on earth would I even consider trying to take on what’s known as the World’s Toughest Triathlon, which includes a 2.4 mile open water swim in Lake Monona that needs to be completed in less than 2 hours and 20 minutes?

Well, we all know the reason why. More on that later.

So I jumped back into the pool on Sept. 16, 2016. That day I swam 700 yards in 30 minutes, mostly in 25 yard intervals. It was rough. Really rough.


Photo cred: Daniel Lukas

But I’m sticking with it, and much like I did when I started running distance 7 years ago, I have begun to see small, incremental progress. I took some lessons and have been reading through a book called “Total Immersion: A Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster and Easier“. I have swam a (very slow) mile – 1650 yards, which told me that if I could maintain that (very slow) pace, I could complete the Ironman swim in 1 hour and 50 minutes – that gives me 30 minutes to spare. Ha! And last week, I was able to complete 1200 yards in 30 minutes, doing 100 yard intervals. PROGRESS!

I have a lot of work to do. Though my confidence is growing, I’m still pretty terrified. Open water. Thousands of people swimming at the same time, splashing, kicking, & hitting me. And probably worse than all of that is the 93 swim workouts I need to do in training before race day. Do I have what it takes? Do I have the discipline, the time, and ability to endure?

The truth is I don’t know. Maybe that’s the scariest part.

But for 7 years, I’ve placed myself in these situations where I don’t know what the outcome will be, and every time, God has faithfully been by my side and carried me through. He’s provided every thing I need and so much more. I live for that joy.

But for the joy set before him, He endured…

So here we go. Following Jesus all the way.



Gabi hopped in my lane with me tonight. She’ll be swimming better than me in no time, I’m sure. In the meantime, she provides me with a decent simulation of race day, and what it’s like to have arms and legs flailing next to me as I swim.

Don’t we look precious?

One thought on “The Swim Story

  1. Pingback: I’m the Slowest Biker | sinead barry-lukas

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